Widening the range of Big Society behaviours

Robin Clarke of the Office for Public Management (OPM) wrote recently about the role of Behaviour Change in building Civil Society under the Big Society banner. It very much reflects what TCC have been saying in recent months.

Two interesting points arise.

Firstly the article refers to ‘barriers to participation’:

“this seems to make an assumption that the public are eager to take on a more active citizenship role and all that is preventing this is some form of local red tape.

The former Labour MP Tony Wright makes an interesting point about this in a recent paper for the IPPR think tank, Where next? The challenge for centre-left politics. Writing about how the Big Society chimes with Labour’s social democratic history he says:

‘ … people will not all become citizen-activists overnight, nor should they. At a practical level, people are busy parenting, working and caring, often struggling to keep afloat; they will only have time and energy for civic activity if good support systems are in place, and if the activity itself seems worthwhile.’

Big Society is competing for people’s time in a crowded market place. Stepping back and removing barriers will probably not be enough to nudge people from being consumers and passive recipients of public services to becoming active citizens.”

The danger of this attitude is that it assumes that participation in the Big Society is all about intrinsically motivated forms of participation, such as serving on committees. Many people will not participate, because that sort of activity might not accord with their values. The answer is to recognise that many activities like parenting and caring are Big Society activities and should be recognised and rewarded as such. Rather than seeking to substantially change the people, we should develop approaches that accord with their needs and what motivates them as they are. This is an important debate, which I will come back to in considering further the World Wildlife Fund’s new report Common Cause which is all about working with cultural values

Secondly, where I think the article is on much stronger ground is when it describes a behavioural model for the Big Society based on the excellent Institute for Government report Mindspace. An approach that seeks to Enable, Encourage, Engage and Evaluate makes sense as it encourages bottom-up initiatives and the article recognises the changing role of local government here:

“Rather than telling communities how and when they can play an active role and tightly controlling access to the public space it becomes more of an equal partner by lending its knowledge and expertise to local communities who help define public spaces.”

The article also importantly makes the point that TCC would strongly agree with:

“behavioural theory repeatedly emphasises: how people behave is often influenced by who the messenger is and how the message is delivered.”

I would just add that the best messenger is one that shares similar values to the recipient of the message as they are more likely to be properly listened to. Too often organisations make the mistake of assuming everyone has intrinsic values like themselves and then communicates in too narrow a wavelength. The good news is that learning to communicate to different values audiences is something that a number of local authorities are beginning to put into place.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company.


One Response to “Widening the range of Big Society behaviours”

  1. The state of Public Involvement in the Big Society era « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] Perhaps Ministers will keep using the term Big  Society as a national brand, whilst more community oriented terminology is used at the local level by Council’s who will know doubt note this report’s contents. We have blogged here, here,  here,  here and here about the communications challenges the Big Society faces. We would also argue that values based engagement enables one to define a much wider range of Big Society behaviours relevant to the value of each target community. We have commented further about that point here. […]

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